Fancy footwork: Dance takes centre stage at Hart House

This spring, Hart House is home to all kinds of dance - from championship events
This spring, Hart House is home to all kinds of dance - from championship events to performances and classes to learn a wide variety of genres (supplied image)

From a popular dance festival to hosting the qualifying round for Canada’s national breakdancing championship, the University of Toronto’s Hart House is centre stage for dance this spring.

University of Toronto will welcome some of the best breakdancers (known as "breakers") in Canada on April 29 when Hart House Theatre hosts the Ontario Open - the qualifying rounds of the Canada DanceSport (CDS) National Championships, which will be held in Vancouver in June. The winner of that series will progress to the World Dance Sport Federation’s World Breaking Championship, taking place in Belgium in September.

The event comes as the status of breaking (also called "b-boying" and "b-girling") is steadily rising - the sport will even be included in the summer Olympics  for the first time next year when the Games are held in Paris.

Geoff Reyes, a graduate of University of Toronto’s civil engineering program in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, has been involved in the Canadian breaking scene for many years - the former Varsity athlete and dance instructor, who is the breaking sports director for CDS and the president of Breaking Canada , is the lead organizer of the Ontario Open at Hart House.

For Reyes, the founder of Ontario-based breaking groups How Hip Hop Helps and You Be ILL , returning to Hart House will be like a homecoming.

"During my time at University of Toronto, Hart House meant community and gathering. I taught breaking with the University of Toronto Dance Club and hip hop dance at the Fitness Centre," Reyes recalls. "My dance group, as well as my students, performed at the Hart House University of Toronto Festival of Dance."

Hosting the Ontario Open is just one of many ways Hart House has supported and showcased the art form of dance over the years.

"There’s a substantial dance community at University of Toronto, and Hart House Theatre is a key part of this," says Doug Floyd , Hart House Theatre’s director of theatre and performance art.

The theatre often hosts and collaborates with dance groups of all genres, including student-led ensembles such as the Silhouettes Dance Company - one of the largest University of Toronto dance troupes on campus - who will perform at Hart House Theatre later this year.  Another student-run dance group, the Only Human Dance Collective , often rents the Hart House Theatre to run classes for students of all experience levels.

The University of Toronto Dance Team - which won three consecutive dance competitions in March against 28 teams across Canada, are another campus group taking to the Hart House Theatre stage to wrap up their season, presenting some of their best dance pieces in a performance on April 29 .

Such collaborations are key to Hart House’s ongoing commitment to programming dance, says Michelle Brownrigg , Hart House Theatre’s senior director and chief program officer.

"Community and academic partnerships are so important," she says. "For example, we have several collaborative workshops with University of Toronto’s Institute for Dance Studies , with most recent support to their keynote on disability and dance earlier this year."

Kiki Ballroom Alliance (supplied image)

Some of those partnerships include the one with Breaking Canada, rehearsal space for vogue dance group Kiki Ballroom Alliance and initiatives with Dance Immersion that focus on the African dance diaspora in tap and jazz dance - a connection that was fostered by Seika Boye , director of the Institute for Dance Studies.

Hart House Theatre’s longstanding association with dance is highlighted each year through the annual Hart House University of Toronto Festival of Dance - one of the largest university dance festivals in the country, the showcase offers a wide variety of performances across genres, including jazz, ballet, ballroom, modern, hip hop, musical theatre, Irish, Latin, belly dancing and k-pop. This year’s event ran from March 31 to April 1 and included 60 different dance numbers.

"Some dance groups have their own large shows, but some don’t - so the festival is even more important for those smaller companies," Floyd explains.

"With such an abundance of dance groups associated with University of Toronto, participation in the festival is a great opportunity for dance groups to interact, collaborate and promote their own work and ventures."

Breaking Canada holds a class on breakdance at the Hart House Fitness Centre (supplied image)

Dancers don’t have to be onstage to enjoy some fancy footwork at Hart House, which offers several popular classes at the Fitness Centre, including Zumba, cardio dance party, Afro cardio dance, Bollywood and k-pop.

Those who get inspired by the breakdancing competition can take a new breaking class this spring. Breaking Canada, in partnership with Canadian Women & Sport, will be offering B Thee Rise, a national b-girl initiative where participants will learn the fundamentals of breaking with guidance from leading b-girls.

"Whether you’re a novice to breaking or looking to improve your abilities, this program is inclusive, safe and most of all, fun," says Vanessa Treasure , director of fitness, wellness and recreation at the Fitness Centre.

With its focus on experiential learning through the arts and active living, Hart House’s longstanding pas de deux with dance offers something for everyone on campus - from showing off skills in the spotlight to learning new moves for the first time.

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